THE CHARGE OF PAGAN INFLUENCE
The last charge that we would briefly address at this point is once again a rehash of outdated negative critical scholarship mixed with a misinformed and misleading Muslim "version" of church history. According to this charge the apostle Paul and some of the later church fathers corrupted much of the purity of Jesus' teachings by mixing the paganism of their day with the original message of Christ. For example, Yousuf Saleem Chisti in his book What Is Christianity: Being a Critical Examination of Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith, attributes such doctrines as the deity of Christ and the atonement to the pagan teachings of the apostle Paul, and the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan formulations of church fathers.
Chisti also attempts to demonstrate the vast influence of mystery religions on Christianity by stating:
The Christian doctrine of atonement was greatly coloured by the influence of the mystery religions, especially Mithraism, which had its own son of God and virgin Mother, and crucifixion and resurrection after expiating for the sins of mankind and finally his ascension to the 7th heaven.
If you study the teachings of Mithraism side by side with that of Christianity, you are sure to be amazed at the close affinity which is visible between them, so much so that many critics are constrained to conclude that Christianity is the facsimile or the second edition of Mithraism.
The author goes on to list some of these similarities by noting that Mithra was also considered the son of God and savior, was born of a virgin, had twelve disciples, was crucified, rose from the grave the third day, atoned for the sins of humankind, and finally returned to his father in heaven. By way of a brief response we need to point out that an honest reading of all the New Testament data will clearly demonstrate that Paul did not teach a new religion. Paul, similar to Jesus, taught that Christianity was a fulfillment of Judaism (Rom. 10:4, 9-11; Col. 2:16-17; Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:16-17). Both taught that men are sinners (Mark 3:38; Rom. 3:23) and that Jesus died, with his shed blood providing atonement for sin (Matt. 26:28; Mark 10:45; Eph.1:7; Rom.5:8). The death and burial of Jesus were completed by his resurrection (Luke 24:46-47; John 20:25-29; Rom.10:9). Yet man cannot save himself, but needs God's grace and leading (Matt. 19:25-26; John 4:44; Eph.2:8-9), which is imparted through faith and surrender to Christ (Mark 1:15; John 6:47; Rom. 10:9-11). The result is a changed life and commitment (Luke 14:25-35; John 15: 1-11; 2 Cor.5: 17). Finally, we should remember that Paul's message of the gospel was both checked and approved by the original apostles (Gal. 1-2), demonstrating official recognition that his message was not opposed to that of Jesus. As we have already pointed out in Chapter 12, even though the Trinity - either the term itself or its specific formulation - does not appear in the Bible, nevertheless, it is a faithful expression dealing with all the biblical data. Also, an accurate understanding of the historical and theological development of this doctrine would amply illustrate that it was exactly because of the dangers of paganism that the Council of Nicea formulated the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In response to the specific charges of the influence of Mithraism on Christianity, Chisti's descriptions of this religion are baseless (it is interesting that the author gives no reference for such alleged similarities). Ronald Nash, the author of The Gospel and the Greeks, describes Mithraism in the following way:
We do know that Mithraism, like its mystery competitors, had a basic myth. Mithra was supposedly born when he emerged from a rock; he was carrying a knife and torch and wearing a Phrygian cap. He battled first with the sun and then with a primeval bull, thought to be the first act of creation. Mithra slew the bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race.
Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth - at least during its early stages ... During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook ... Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians.
Perhaps the most important argument against an early Christian dependence on Mithraism is the fact that the timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity.
In fact, all the allegations of Christian dependence on various mystery religions or Gnostic movements have been rejected by scholars in the fields of biblical and classical studies. The reasons for such a rejection are mainly due to the historical character of Christianity and the early date of the New Testament documents that would not have allowed enough time for mythological developments on one hand, and on the other hand, the complete lack of any early historical evidence in support of the mystery religions. As the British scholar Sir Norman Anderson explains,
The basic difference between Christianity and the mysteries is the historic basis of the one and the mythological character of the others. The deities of the mysteries were no more than "nebulous figures of an imaginary past," while the Christ whom the apostolic kerygma proclaimed had lived and died only a few years before the first New Testament documents were written. Even when the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians the majority of some five hundred witnesses to the resurrection were still alive.
Concerning the Qur'an, we would like to point out that, based on the findings of reputable scholars of Islam, much of the content of the Qur'an can be traced to either Jewish or Christian works (often from Jewish or Christian apocrypha) or pagan sources.
Arthur Jeffery, in his technical and scholarly volume The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an, ably proves that "not only the greater part of the religious vocabulary, but also most of the cultural vocabulary of the Qur'an is of non-Arabic origin." Some of the vocabulary sources include Abyssinian, Persian, Greek, Syriac, Hebrew, and Coptic.
W. St. Clair-Tisdall, in his classic The Sources of Islam, also demonstrates the direct dependence of certain Qur'anic stories of the Old Testament on the Jewish Talmud. The influence of the Jewish apocrypha can be seen on the Qur'anic stories of Cain and Abel, Abraham and the idols, and the Queen of Sheeba. The direct influence of Christian apocrypha can be seen in the story of seven sleepers and the childhood miracles of Jesus. For the existence of Zoroastrian doctrines in the Qur'an we can cite the Qur'anic descriptions of the houries (virgins) in Paradise and the sirat (the bridge between hell and Paradise). In addition to these, important Muslim practices such as visiting the shrine of Ka'aba, and the many details of the ceremony of hajj, including visits to the hills of Safa and Marwa, and also the throwing of stones against a stone pillar symbolizing Satan, were all pre-Islamic practices of pagan Arabia.
It spite of the above evidences, it is interesting that Muslim authors have been most unwilling to address the issue of the human origins of the Qur'an, but have simply repeated their dogmatic assertions about its divine origin. In fact, in our research of Muslim authors we have not even come across an acknowledgment of such problems in the Qur'an, to say nothing of solutions.
In conclusion, it is our sincere hope that the readers will consider the
evidences set forth in this book, pursue their specific areas of interest
even farther, and make their decision concerning the integrity and the
reliability of the New Testament based on historical FACTS!
21. See M. A. Yusseff, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Barnabas and the New Testament (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1985).
22. Yousuf Saleem Chisti, What Is Christianity: Being A Critical Examination of Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Karachi, Pakistan: World Federation of Islamic Missions, 1970).
23. Ibid., 87.
24. Ibid., 87-88.
25. See Habermas, 67-72. For further response to the charge that Paul corrupted Jesus' orginal message, the reader should refer to J. Gresham Machen's classic The Origin of Paul's Religion (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1925), F.F. Bruce, Paul and Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974) and Herman Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1957).
26. For a brief treatment of the history of this doctrine, see E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton: Tyndale House). Two of the classics in this field are G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: S.P.C.K., 1952) and J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958).
27. Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Dallas: Word Publishing 1992), 144
28. Ibid., 147.
29. Ibid., 119.
30. Sir Norman Anderson, Christianity and World Religions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1984), 52-53.
31. Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an (Lahore: Al-Biruni, 1977), 2.
32. Ibid., 12-32.
33. W. St. Clair-Tisdall, The Sources of Islam (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), 11-30. For a host of other similarities, see pp. 39-45.
34. Ibid., 46-59, 74-9l.
35. See Ali Dashti, Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), 55, 93-94, 164.
With permission of the author, this material was taken from the pages
306-309 (Appendix 4) of
Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb
Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross
Baker Books, 1993, ISBN 0-8010-3859-6
Overview on the material answering to the charge of Pagan
Influence on Christianity
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